Ethical decision-making at bioscience companies

Pharmaceutical and biotech companies, grappling with complex ethical issues (such as stem cell and animal research), say that they are gradually formalizing systematic approaches to ethical decision-making, according to a study published in PLoS Medicine.

Jocelyn Mackie and colleagues (University of Toronto and Keck Graduate Institute of Applied Life Sciences) performed over 100 in-depth, face-to-face interviews with top managers and executives at 13 bioscience companies to learn about bioindustry ethics from their perspective.

The research represents some of the first empirical evidence of how bioscience companies are dealing with ethical issues. Mackie and colleagues' work will be discussed by delegates at the annual international convention of the Biotechnology Industry Association in Chicago April 9-12 (www.bio.org).

Company managers and executives say that they have adopted five approaches to ethical decision-making:

Ethical leadership (e.g. in larger companies, whole departments are dedicated to ethical issues)

External expertise (several companies use external consultants to provide ethics expertise not available internally) Internal ethics mechanisms (e.g. some companies now weigh candidates' ethical values when hiring)

External ethics engagement (e.g. more than half of the companies studied require business partners to match their ethical approaches) Ethics evaluation and reporting mechanisms (a few companies studied have formalized the way they evaluate and report to stakeholders on their ethical commitments).

"Because they operate near the cutting edge of scientific research and development, with processes and products that are often controversial," says Mackie, "the ethical commitment of bioscience companies is regularly called into question."

"Our analysis uncovered five interrelated approaches, each with several mechanisms, used to address ethical issues." Bioscience companies, she says, have reacted constructively to pressure from regulators and consumers and have begun the process of internalizing principles to the point where they are an integral part of day-to-day decision-making.

In a linked Perspective article, Carlos Novas of the London School of Economics BIOS Centre (www.lse.ac.uk/collections/BIOS), who was not involved in the study, says that Mackie and colleagues' work shows that "current and anticipated ethical concerns are shaping [companies'] corporate practices and bottom lines in the here and now." But one question that was left unresolved by the authors, says Novas, was how effective the five approaches have been at accomplishing their objectives.

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Co-authors Jocelyn Mackie, David Finegold, Peter Singer, Abdallah Daar and Andrew Taylor are available for advance interviews Mar. 30 and Apr. 3. To arrange an interview, contact Terry Collins (416-538-8712; mobile 416-878-8712; terrycollins@rogers.com)

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Citation: Mackie JE, Taylor AD, Finegold DL, Daar AS, Singer PA (2006) Lessons on ethical decision making from the bioscience industry. PLoS Med 3(5): e129.

PLEASE ADD THE LINK TO THE PUBLISHED ARTICLE IN ONLINE
VERSIONS OF YOUR REPORT: http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.0030129

CONTACT:

To arrange an interview with the authors, contact Terry Collins (416-538-8712; mobile 416-878-8712; terrycollins@rogers.com)

Related Perspectives article:

Citation: Novas C (2006) What is the bioscience industry doing to address the ethical issues it faces? PLoS Med 3(5): e142.

PRESS-ONLY PREVIEW OF THE ARTICLE: http://www.plos.org/press/plme-03-05-novas.pdf

CONTACT:

Carlos Novas
BIOS Research Centre for the Study of Bioscience, Biomedicine, Biotechnology and Society
London School of Economics
Houghton Street
London WC2A 2AE United Kingdom
+44 (0) 20 7955 6998
c.novas@lse.ac.uk

About PLoS Medicine

PLoS Medicine is an open access, freely available international medical journal. It publishes original research that enhances our understanding of human health and disease, together with commentary and analysis of important global health issues. For more information, visit http://www.plosmedicine.org

About the Public Library of Science

The Public Library of Science (PLoS) is a non-profit organization of scientists and physicians committed to making the world's scientific and medical literature a freely available public resource. For more information, visit http://www.plos.org


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